FOI request reveals £46 million agency wage bill at Northants County Council

A Freedom of Information request has revealed Northamptonshire County Council has spent £46 million hiring agency staff over the past two years.

The Conservative cabinet at County Hall. The authority, which is preparing to cut £65  million from its budget, has spent more than £46 million on expensive agency staff since 2014.
The Conservative cabinet at County Hall. The authority, which is preparing to cut £65 million from its budget, has spent more than £46 million on expensive agency staff since 2014.

The cash-strapped authority is poised to ratify a £65 million budget cut on Monday because it says the money it receives from central Government is shrinking while the county’s population is rapidly increasing.

But an FOI request has shed light on just how it’s reliance on agency professionals, individuals contracted to do work on behalf of the council for sometimes double the pay of a direct employee, are costing the council.

Since 2014 the authority has spent £46.673 million on agency workers - with £43 million of that being spent purely within the children’s services department, the system for stopping the neglect and abuse of youngsters.

Labour’s shadow finance spokesman Councillor Mick Scrimshaw (Lab, Northall) said the council is ultimately paying the price for a damning Ofsted report of its children’s services in 2013.

He said; “In a way these figures are no surprise,

“While we are told there is a national shortage of social workers it hasn’t helped that Northamptonshire County Council has had a bad reputation in this department.

“It has left the professional social workers reluctant to come to Northamptonshire.”

Councillor Scrimshaw said the council also did not agree to cap agency worker’s pay back in 2014 as part of an agreement being proposed by neighbouring authorities in the east of England.

Some agency staff, such as social workers and youth workers in Northamptonshire, are paid double that of a directly employed worker, in some cases up to more than £50 an hour.

In 2014 Cabinet member for children, families and education, Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Oundle) said that around 40 per cent of the children’s service staff are employed through an agency. The national average is around 12 per cent.

But the council is trying to combat the problem in children’s services by setting up a trust to manage the department, which would be free to offer golden hellos to new permanent staff of up to £20,000.

The law currently prevent councils from offering the same terms and conditions as the private market.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said that agency and temporary staff can fulfil an essential role for the county council in covering sick leave or maternity leave in frontline posts such as social workers, or in areas where they are required to cover vacant posts.

He said: “Like local authorities across the country, there are challenges in recruiting and retaining social workers and our children’s services improvement programme has meant the loss of some permanent staff, positions which were filled by agency staff in the short-term – as well as a number of interim posts created as part of our improvement journey.

“Our move towards establishing a children’s trust will enable us to offer improved terms and conditions for our permanent staff and therefore reduce the current reliance on agency staff.

Furthermore, our Social Work Academy, launched in October 2014, is attracting the best newly-qualified social workers in the country to train and work here in Northamptonshire.”

Total spending on agency staff per department:

Adult Social Care Services: £1,296,392.04

Chief Executive functions: £ 53,056.88

Children, Families & Education: £ 43,085,071.95

Environment, Development & Transport: £ 713,620.67

Fire and Public Safety: £ 942.65

Public Health & Wellbeing: £ 1,524,768.78

Total £ 46,673,852.97